WEST MICHIGAN — Every once in a while we get a snowstorm, perhaps a blizzard, that seems to set the standard of all other storms that follow. There’s been at least a couple of those in Great Lakes history of which their anniversary is this week.
47 Years ago was the blizzard of 1967 that occurred on January 26. Some refer to it as the Chicago Blizzard. It dropped 23 inches of snow, created 10 foot drifts and 50 storm related deaths. It’s estimated that more than 50,000 vehicles were abandoned during the storm and 10 foot snow drifts were common. Perhaps this was an especially tough one to take since just two days before temperatures were 65 degrees with thunderstorms. You can get more here from the original article written in 1967 from our parent company and newspaper partner the Chicago Tribune.
It seems the blizzard that set the standard and that many other, more recent storms are measured by, was the blizzard of 1978. It occurred 36 years ago from January 25 – 27. It affected several states across the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, including West Michigan. 19.2″ fell in Grand Rapids, and places like Muskegon had multiple day totals (with lake-effect) of 52″, and 28″ in Traverse City. Ohio recorded wind gusts of 70 to 80 mile per hour along with 20 foot snow drifts. It’s estimated that 125,000 vehicles were abandoned and scores of schools and businesses were closed. More than 70 people died. The storm also made meteorological history for setting the record for the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the United States of a non hurricane storm. Wikipedia has a lot more information on this blizzard here.
So what exactly qualifies as a blizzard? The National Weather Service has a specific set of criteria, so not every storm simply qualifies as a blizzard. Blizzard warnings are issued for winter storms with sustained or frequent winds of 35 mile per hour or greater, along with considerable falling and/or blowing snow that frequently reduces visibilities to one-quarter mile or less. These conditions must prevail for a minimum of three hours.
Thus far this season, the Grand Rapids NWS has not issued any blizzard warnings, but the NWS out of North Webster, Indiana (which handles the counties that border the state) have issued only one on January 5, 2014 for Berrien and Cass Counties. Photo is courtesy of the National Weather Service (NOAA).